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Omnibus veterans and military affairs bill — including last-minute amendments — gains approval

Despite a last-minute amendment receiving a cool reception from Republicans, the omnibus veterans and military affairs finance and policy bill has been approved by a House committee.

The delete-all amendment to HF752, as amended, was approved unanimously Friday by the House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The committee first discussed the bill, sponsored by Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), Wednesday.

The companion, SF722, is sponsored by Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia) and awaits action by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee.

The central holdup Friday was over an oral amendment offered by Ecklund to provide $100,000 next biennium for the Veterans Resilience Project, which offers veterans a treatment called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. In February, the committee heard a bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), HF792, that would allocate $800,000 next biennium to the project, but it did not make the omnibus bill.

At Wednesday's hearing, Ecklund asked that any amendments to the omnibus bill be made by noon Thursday. House rules dictate that any amendments to bills be made at least 24 hours in advance of hearings.

But Ecklund said Winkler did not see his bill had not been included in the omnibus bill in time to make an amendment.

Republicans, already leery about funding the project, on which they want more data, opposed bending the rules to include it in the omnibus bill. Per the amendment, funding for the project would mean a $100,000 reduction to a proposed allocation for the Advisory Task Force on 9/11 and Global War on Terrorism Remembrance.

"The rules are there for a reason," said Rep. Matt Bliss (R-Pennington), who had hoped HF1229, his bill funding veterans’ retreats at a Northern Minnesota camp, among other initiatives, would make the omnibus bill. "When we don't follow the rules, what are they there for?"

After the amendment to fund the Veterans Resilience Project was approved along party lines, Bliss offered an oral amendment to incorporate HF1229, which would include $328,000 in funding, in the omnibus bill. He proposed funding the initiative with a corresponding cut to a $6.3 million veteran homelessness initiative.

DFLers agreed to incorporate the amendment but asked that funding for it come from the broader Department of Veterans Affairs' budget, a motion to which Bliss agreed.

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